Magna, Utah

By Joe Kusek

NFRShake, Rattle and Roll —
Earthquakes Hit Utah and Idaho Amid COVID-19


With the world at a virtual standstill because of the COVID-19 pandemic, those living in the western United States got their lives given a shake by Mother Nature.

When WPRA Wilderness Director Julie Herman and barrel racer Jessie Telford start talking “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” they are not referencing a song recorded by Elvis Presley.

Herman and Telford were two of many affected by March earthquakes in Utah and Idaho.

On the morning of March 18, the state of Utah was jolted by an earthquake of 5.7 magnitude, according to the United States Geological Survey.

The epicenter was in Magna, a small community just 10 miles west of Salt Lake City. The earthquake damaged buildings, forced flights to be diverted from the Salt Lake City airport and left thousands without power.

Less than two weeks later, in the evening of March 31, the state of Idaho was shook by an earthquake of 6.5 magnitude. The epicenter was in a remote area along the Salmon River Mountains and 72 miles northeast of Boise. The strength of the quake was felt in six different states.

“What strange times,” said Telford, a 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, speaking for her peers and many more.

Herman, who has been the Wilderness Director for almost a decade, was throwing in a load of clothes into her washing machine at her home in Bluffdale when the earthquake struck at 7:09 a.m.

Bluffdale is 21 miles south of the Utah quake epicenter.

As Herman tossed in her wash, the machine moved almost a half foot. “Did I hit the wrong button?” she thought to herself.

“It’s like when the spin cycle is off track,” Herman continued. “It moved like that.”

Alone at home, she bolted up the stairs, paused to calm her nerves and proceeded to go outside.

“They don’t give you instructions on how to react,” said the hairstylist. “At first, I thought it was a thunderstorm. You could hear the sounds of things moving.”

Herman remained outside a few more minutes before venturing back inside to inspect for any damage. There was none. But she did hear from others who had things fall off their walls and have water heaters disconnect.

The region endured 18 smaller aftershocks following the primary earthquake and was hit with another of 4.1 magnitude on April 14.

Herman has tried to take a positive view on the shakeup. “All the news you hear about is the coronavirus,” she said. “It took the focus off that which was kind of nice.”

It’s also made her more aware of her surroundings, trying to determine if the sound of a truck rumbling past or an airplane flying overhead could be another earthquake.

“You just become more aware of what is around you, instead of gliding through life like we normally do,” Herman said. “You don’t always take things for granted.

“And you learn where in the house is the best place to be,” she finished with a laugh.

Telford was in her driveway in Caldwell, Idaho, with daughters Shawny and Sierra, unloading a load of wood purchased at a local Home Depot from the family pickup.

“We were building a bed for one of the girls,” Telford said.

As the family emptied the truck bed, the ground beneath them got shaky at 5:52 p.m.

“We just got unsteady,” Telford recalled. “It was like the wind was making us off balanced. It was just for a couple of minutes. An earthquake is not something that crosses your mind.”

Telford didn’t realize what she had experienced until her mother called and told her what it was. It was confirmed when four employees told Telford and her husband Jake that the lights of their indoor arena were swinging back and forth.

Caldwell is approximately 100 miles southwest from the epicenter. Telford said their property – where the family trains horses – did not sustain any damage.

“We all laughed about it. It was our first experience with an earthquake,” she said. “And we got the bed built.”